Posted May 27, 2022
The rapid increase of the cost of buying a home has caught the attention of politicians at all levels, but about a third of Ontarians are renters and not homeowners, according to the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.
The high cost of rent is of particular concern in the northwest Toronto neighbourhood of Jane and Firgrove, where most residents are renters.
Area resident Nasra Mohamed, who has lived there her entire life, says that while housing costs are a concern for residents across the city, it's especially so for her and her neighbours.
"In lower income communities that are receiving lower wages in a dense area like this, rent control becomes a line between whether I'm going to pay rent, groceries, or am I going to have to apply for social housing," she told CBC Toronto.
Rent control, where the annual allowable increase is capped at 1.2 per cent, is currently in place in Ontario only for rental units built before 2018. Annie Stanley, who rents a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in Toronto's Humewood-Cedarvale neighbourhood with a roommate at a cost of $2,300 a month plus hydro, notes that landlords at older buildings can still apply to increase rent above the provincial guideline when repairs or renovations are done.
Not only can she not afford to buy a home, but she worries about things like above-guideline rent increases.
"Nobody thinks about people that are renting full time," she said. "There's so many things people are doing to address buying a house and that's good, but there's this entire section of people that are just being left out."
She wants politicians to remember that issues facing renters matter. "Because we vote, too."
Gentrification also an issue
While rent control is one piece of the puzzle, Mohamed notes that gentrification also undercuts the availability of affordable rental housing.
After decades of neglect, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) demolished parts of the Firgrove-Grassways community. The community housing units will be replaced, but hundreds of market units will also be built in what's being called a revitalization of the area.
"So the question is, how are you going to keep this type of community, the character of the community, while also allowing us to, you know, live here and not being pushed out or priced out?" Mohamed asked.
Marcia Stone, who moved to Toronto from P.E.I. years ago and has had difficulty finding an affordable rental home, is an advocate for tenants' rights with ACORN and has a warning for politicians.
"What do you think's going to happen if we don't put rent control in place, if it's not made a priority?" she said. "You're going to have more and more encampments. There's going to be an increase in food banks. It's a domino effect."
The parties vying for seats in the Ontario election have taken notice of the issue. Here's what the main parties say they'll do for renters.
In the 2022 budget, the Progressive Conservatives committed $19.2 million over the next three years to the Ontario Land Tribunal, as well as the Landlord and Tenant Board, "to resolve cases faster, address the significant backlog, support more efficient dispute resolution, and increase housing supply and opportunity," the budget document says.
The budget touts the Progressive Conservatives' "More Homes for Everyone" plan, which was released earlier in March, saying the policies outlined in it will help "protect renters," but while the plan includes a number of changes to make it easier for municipalities to speed up approvals and build more housing, it doesn't include programs that directly lower the cost of renting.
"The government will deliver a housing supply action plan every year for the next four years, with policies and tools that support multigenerational homes and missing middle housing," the budget says. "Missing middle" refers to multi-unit dwellings like stacked townhouses, low-rise apartments and homes converted to multi-unit rental properties.
The Liberals are pledging to bring back rent control across the province, "providing much-needed stability to renters who can prepare for smaller, more predictable rent increases," the platform says.
The party is also promising to create a path to ownership for renters. It would be a "legal framework that provides protections and certainty for owners and renters to opt into rent-to-own agreements," but further details aren't provided.
The Liberals also say the party's housing plan, which aims to build 1.5 million new homes over the next decade, will put downward pressure on rents.
They also want to clear up backlogs at the Ontario Land Tribunal and Landlord and Tenant Board in part by spending an additional $15 million annually on those agencies.
The party says it will make it easier to add additional units to rental properties through changes to zoning laws, and "strengthen provincial oversight over elevator access and maintenance to make sure disruptions are resolved more quickly," in apartment buildings, though the platform doesn't explain how.
Student housing is another focus of the platform.
"As the number of university and college students grows in Ontario, too many students are forced to pay high rents or live in precarious and poorly maintained homes," it says.
The party says it will end development charges for student housing and change zoning laws to enable more student housing on campuses.
The NDP is pledging to bring back rent control for apartments, including a guarantee "that you pay what the last tenant paid."
The party says it will provide income assistance to 311,000 households in the province, including renting households, which was recommended in a recent report from the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) and Co-Operative Housing Federation Of Canada.
The party is also pledging to end the backlog of cases at the Landlord and Tenant Board and restore the right to an in-person hearing before the board, but the platform doesn't provide additional details about how the backlog will be cleared.
The Greens also want to bring in rent control "to regulate rental increases year-to-year," the platform says, but it doesn't give any numbers.
They're pledging to offer support to 311,000 Ontario households, including renters, as recommended by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) and Co-Operative Housing Federation Of Canada.
They'll also bring in a "clear system" for what sort of renovations can justify rent increases, and change sections of the Residential Tenancies Act regarding state of repair "to ensure tenants have homes that are safe."
The party also wants stricter rules on "renovictions and bad faith evictions," which the platform says will keep apartments affordable, but there are no further details on how this will work.
Like other parties, the Greens want to boost funding at the Landlord and Tenant Board to hire more adjudicators and get rid of mandatory online hearings. "This will help address delays so that both landlords and tenants have timely access to justice," the platform says.
Article by Richard Raycraft, Andrea Janus for CBC News